It’s Andrew Cayley CMG QC’s first interview since becoming Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) a year ago. Appropriately enough, it’s his birthday. ‘This was a job I wanted. I understood they were looking for someone with extended and recent experience of heavy prosecutions.’ With seven years’ experience as Director of Service Prosecutions and, before that, 18 years prosecuting the most serious crimes in international tribunals around the world, he fitted the bill.

First impressions of the CPS? ‘It’s a much more professional organisation now than it was in its early years in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I am impressed with the dedication of its staff. Their work conditions are challenging – workloads are high compared with those of service prosecutors. Many of my staff have come from the CPS, permanently or on loan. I rate them highly. I regularly meet the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions], twice a year formally, but we also talk whenever we need. It’s in my nature to collaborate with people rather than be confrontational. I see myself as a critical friend. I know from my experience the difficulties that prosecutors face in their work.’

None of this means that he is a pushover, as his recent report on rape demonstrates. ‘The criminal justice system too often lacks focus on what is most important and there needs to be more change. It fails to put victims at the heart of building strong cases. The CPS and the police must cooperate better. Build cases together. I think our recommendations are finally beginning to be taken seriously. There are increasing examples of good cooperation between police and prosecutors. Operation Soteria, for example, where prosecutors are giving advice to the police on how to build each rape case; police and prosecutors are together eliminating disclosure errors; police and prosecutors are together consistently considering the use of evidence of bad character in rape prosecutions. Victims must be treated with compassion and understanding, care and human kindness. They should be looked after properly with specialist support, kept informed of the legal process and decisions, and protected by available civil orders. Things have improved a lot, though: if you look back 30 years there were well known incidences of the police persuading rape victims not to proceed with their complaint when there was sufficient evidence. That would not happen today.’

He sees the Attorney and Solicitor General every six weeks to discuss his work. ‘All Law Officers with whom I have worked, including as Director of Service Prosecutions, share a concern for improving our national prosecution services. They read HMCPSI reports. These reports also shape our discussions with the DPP, with the Director of the Serious Fraud Office, with their staff and with other prosecutors. A head of steam has been built up around rape, and rightly so. So many interested groups are involved now, and with such engagement things will get better. People are taking our recommendations very seriously.’

Cayley is also conducting confidential talks with every resident Crown Court judge in the country. ‘Many tell me they have never spoken to the Chief Inspector before. Mostly they say good things about the CPS and want to know about my priorities. Obviously, there are some gripes. Crime is the hardest area in which to be a judge; the grittiest, the most demanding. As a group, in terms of their function in society, I admire them a lot.’

He grew up in Rustington, West Sussex. ‘Dad was the local pharmacist. Mum was a housewife, a strong character whom Dad relied on heavily in the business. She was especially ambitious for me, having had to leave school herself at 14. They wanted a good education for my sister and me and they didn’t go on fancy holidays or buy new cars. At Brighton College I did a lot of drama – I’m probably a frustrated actor. I was a naval cadet. I enjoyed sailing and cross-country running.’ He is in training for a 10k run in May. ‘I was not hugely academic then. History was my favourite subject, but I couldn’t answer the question “What are you going to do with history?”, so I chose maths and science for A level and then law at University College, London. I didn’t enjoy law. Too much rote learning. It’s not really a thinking subject – at least it wasn’t for me. I found it too abstract, even criminal law, which only comes alive when you are practising it. But I clicked with corporate and commercial law and stayed on to do an LLM.’

He chose the solicitor route. ‘The solicitors’ final exams were a nightmare: 12 papers. I was referred in one subject but passed after going to a crammer where the teacher was good at question-spotting. While looking for articles in West Sussex I worked on a farm, moving livestock, shovelling what you can’t say in your article, and then I got a call from an expanding South coast firm. I was there for four years, specialising in company/commercial. Working in Worthing and Chichester, I had a blast. There was a good life before me if I stayed. But I felt it would be too predictable. So, I applied to join the army – its legal branch because I didn’t want to give up law. First, I had to undertake officer training, including an infantry attachment leading a platoon in Belize – fortunately I had a very good platoon sergeant! There followed two years in Dusseldorf, prosecuting in Courts-Martial.’

He then got a life-changing secondment to work for the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), assisting with the preparation of the General Blaskic trial. ‘Halfway through the trial my secondment came to an end. The army wanted me back. By then I was thoroughly committed to the work. ICTY offered me a job and I resigned from the army in 1998. I was put on the case against Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic involving the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995. This resulted in the first conviction for genocide arising out of the Bosnian War. I am extremely proud to have been part of this trial. The defence simply denied that the events charged ever happened. We proved that they had and that they had been directed at the highest level. We exhumed thousands of bodies many of which showed evidence of summary execution. Madeleine Albright [first female US Secretary of State], who has recently passed away, was crucial to our success. She made public and released aerial imagery showing mass grave sites.’

Stepping up, he then led the first prosecution relating to members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. ‘I was up against Michael Mansfield QC defending. He was tough. I found it a good learning experience, and I thought, “If I can do this...”’

A move to the International Criminal Court to work on crimes in the Sudan and Uganda followed. ‘By 2007 I had been doing the work of a barrister for a number of years. I applied to transfer.’ He was exempted from pupillage on the strength of his experience and called by the Inner Temple, where he is now a Bencher. ‘I eventually joined Temple Garden Chambers and developed a practice defending war crimes cases.’ Clients included Charles Taylor (Sierra Leone, convicted) and Ivan Cermak (Croatia, acquitted). ‘These cases are hard to defend. The facts are so terrible – off-the-scale violence and tragedy. The prosecution occupies the moral high ground. The defence has to work out how to dislodge the prosecution from it. I have great respect for counsel who defend in these cases.’

In 2009 he went to Cambodia for four years to prosecute leaders of the Khmer Rouge, taking silk in 2012. Among their many atrocities, the Khmer Rouge had tortured and killed upwards of 18,000 people, including women and children, at the S21 Security Centre in Phnom Penh. ‘One of the most satisfying moments of my career was when the Tribunal upheld my appeal and increased the S21’s commandant’s sentence from 19 years to “whole life”. Although the trials and appeals which took place certainly met international standards, there was political interference which blighted the court. That was a shame as we were looking at two million dead. Twenty five per cent of the population had been murdered, worked or starved to death in just over three years. The crimes were comparable to the Holocaust.’

I ask about his CMG, awarded in 2014 for contribution to international criminal and humanitarian law. ‘I was proud to be recognised but I have always felt slightly uncomfortable being seen as making a career, or building a professional reputation, on the back of many thousands of people murdered in wars or civil unrest.’

He returned to the UK in 2013 as Director of Service Prosecutions (DSP), an office created five years earlier by the amalgamation of the prosecuting functions of the three armed services. ‘At the time it wasn’t the only job of a service lawyer to prosecute in courts martial. There was therefore a lack of in-house specialist experience to advise on and prosecute the bigger cases. It was a risk. We fixed it. We recruited a number of permanent senior prosecutors from the army and the Criminal Bar and brought in support from the CPS. Junior service prosecutors were always enthusiastic and happy to prosecute the more straightforward work. My major challenge as Director was to settle a significant case before the International Criminal Court concerning allegations of war crimes committed by British soldiers in Iraq. The question was: had we looked properly at every allegation in cases where prior decisions had been made not to prosecute. I took this on shortly after I arrived. By the time I left we had satisfied the ICC that we had properly investigated and considered prosecution in all the cases. We had to consider several thousand cases with a completely independent eye, fairly and transparently. I took Treasury Counsel’s advice on the half dozen most serious cases. There was a small number of disturbing cases. But in most cases there was virtually no evidence at all of either a crime or UK involvement. The government supported us well with resources. There was a hell of a lot of pressure from different quarters and from the ICC. The more liberal media wanted us to prosecute everyone; media outlets traditionally supporting the Armed Forces demanded we close the cases down. There’s less pressure in my current job!’

Advice to those starting out? ‘Find something in the law you feel passionate about. Have the courage to try different areas, take chances, jump into the unknown.’ As DSP, Cayley maintained the relationship which his office had developed with the local university, Brunel. ‘We used Brunel’s Moot Court to train our young prosecutors. I spoke to the students at Brunel about legal careers. A quality that impresses me most in those starting out is persistence – couple that with hard work and commitment. That’s how you get on.’ 

© UKParliament

Pictured top: International Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley during the second day of the initial hearing in Case 002, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, 28 June 2011. © WikiCommons

Pictured above: Andrew Cayley giving evidence to the Justice Committee on 17 May 2022, following the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection’s progress report on the post-pandemic recovery which was published after this interview took place. The report found that without a ‘coordinated whole-system plan’, recovery is likely to be disjointed and criminal justice, already in a ‘parlous state before COVID’, would be further fractured. ‘There are lots of different factors that affect the speed at which cases move through the system and different parts of the system do not always communicate with each other very well,’ Cayley told the Justice Committee. Specifically, Cayley said the cap should be lifted on sitting days, plea and trial preparation hearings could be much more effective if disclosure and communication between prosecution and defence was improved, and the listing system should be overhauled: ‘I do think an inspection of HMCTS does need to be done, particularly around listing of cases,’ he added. The report also flagged the impact of ‘the shrinking Criminal Bar… on the effectiveness of the CJS’.